Initial reports suggest '3000 people affected' by earthquake off Solomon Islands
A humanitarian agency says initial reports from the Solomon Islands suggest 3000 people have been affected by the earthquake and many buildings damaged.
WorldVision, a charity with staff in the island nation, said the quake damaged buildings included homes, a hospital, a church, and a WorldVision office. Power was cut in Kirakira, the provincial capital of the island nearest the quake's offshore epicentre.
"Some twenty patients were also evacuated from the Kirakira hospital which was damaged by the earthquake.
"Communities along Makira's coast and in neighbouring South Malaita reported earthquake damage to houses but with limited road access and poor communication, the full extent of damage is unknown.
* Full coverage: 7.8 Solomons quake
"Early reports from the National Emergency Operations Centre report that over 3000 people in the provinces of Makira, Malaita and Temotu have been affected by the earthquake, with many homes destroyed."
WorldVision Solomon Islands country director Janes Ginting said a family in the provincial capital narrowly escaped when the wall of their family home collapsed during the quake.
"World Vision has pre-positioned supplies including mosquito nets, tents, soap, buckets and rope in place and is ready to support the Solomon Islands government to assist affected children and families," Ginting said.
The massive earthquake in the Solomon Islands early on Friday felt "eerily similar" to the mid-November Kaikoura quake that smashed the northeast of the South Island. Both were magnitude 7.8 events, a person who experienced both said.
Unicef NZ programmes manager Hamish Lindsay, who was in Honiara when the quake struck, said he got out of bed on his hotel room and went under a table.
"I live near Nelson so it was a good shake. It didn't last as long as the New Zealand quake, maybe 30 seconds," he said.
"It was a strong side to side movement with a few items falling off the table. The room I was staying in was on stilts, so I had been checking it out a few days ago, with the NZ quake still in my mind, and was pleased to see cross braces in place."
"It felt eerily similar," to the Kaikoura quake.
There are currently 17 New Zealand police officers stationed in Honiara, on the northwest of Guadalcanal Island, to support the Royal Solomon Island Police Force.
Detective sergeant Darren Folau said the earthquake was a rude awakening in the early hours. He said there did not appear to be much, if any, damage to buildings or infrastructure in the capital and reports from other islands indicated no casualties, or injuries.
Communications were working and there was a fast response from the Royal Solomon Island Police Force, he said. There were reports of hut-like island buildings damaged. Several Kiwi officers stationed in the island capital were from Canterbury and had previous experience of quakes, Folau said.
"It was a pretty significant earthquake. The building we were in was just rocking and rolling.
"The majority of infrastructure, there's no damage whatsoever. The epicentre of the quake was about 300 nautical miles. It was near a very rural population [on the island of Makira]."
Earlier, collapsed buildings had been reported on the island of Makira, the closest to the epicentre of the massive undersea quake, which struck at 4.38am (NZT 6.38am).
Authorities started assessing damage at first light in the island chain and are waiting for more information to come in. Most communities contacted had already evacuated. No casualties have been confirmed.
Lindsay said some villages along the coast near the epicentre were "very remote", and it would take time to assess the full extent of the damage.
Solomon Islands National Disaster Management Office director Loti Yates says they were still waiting to find out the extent of the damage.
"Most houses are built by traditional materials, so some houses are reported to have been damaged in south Malaita but the extent is not known," Yates told Reuters by telephone.
He said several villages had evacuated to higher ground, but that there were no reports of deaths. A helicopter had been sent to survey the damage at Malaita, which is home to about a quarter of the Solomon Islands population of 600,000, Yates added.
Yates said he had not received any reports of deaths.
He said he and his team were still trying to communicate with the remote island of Kirakira.
Their efforts are being hampered by poor telecommunication infrastructure in the areas.
"It's too early to get info yet as the area of interest is remote, and communication is difficult," he said.
Tsunami warnings were issued earlier, but have been cancelled. However, there are still concerns that remote coastal communities may still be at risk of damage from tsunami, but contact with those communities is proving very difficult.
Police in Kirakira have reported through media that so far they have found no damage to permanent buildings, but there have been reports of leaf thatched houses collapsing under the quake and a lot of people have fled into the hills.
Earlier, Royal Solomon Islands Police Force spokesman Reginald Tungi said it was too early to ascertain the extent of the damage in other, more remote areas.
Tungi said power was working sporadically in Honiara, but noted there were some difficulties with mobile coverage.
"It seems OK, nothing is majorly damaged, but it is too soon after 4am [the time the quake struck] to know completely."
Tungi said they were trying to make contact with people on more remote islands.
Unicef NZ is ready to respond if assistance is requested by the Solomon Islands Government.
The organisation has supplies, including tarpaulins, water purification tablets, buckets, sanitation products, blankets, and food, ready in the Solomons, if they are needed.
Danny Kennedy, who runs a diving company in the North-Western island of Ghizo, did not feel the quake and only heard about it when he woke up.
"We're probably about 400 miles from the epicentre... Vanuatu is probably closer to Kirakira, than we are, even though we're both part of the Solomon Islands."
He is concerned about remote islands closer to the epicentre.
"They're very, very rural regions and there's not much infrastructure. I'm not sure their phones would even work... my wife and I are supposed to get txts from emergency services when something like this happens, I remember, and here you are: both of our phones were on, and no messages."
James Samani, duty manager at the Solomon Kitano Mendana Hotel in the capital Honiara, said the earthquake was strongly felt but the hotel was not damaged.
"We felt it big and strong in Honiara, but at the moment here in the hotel all the guests are in the lobby," Samani told Reuters.
The earthquake triggered possible tsunami threats across the Pacific.
Waves between one metre and 3m were possible along some coasts of the Solomon Islands, with waves from 30cm to 1m possible in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, the US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center predicted.
A tsunami watch for New Zealand had been issued, but since cancelled by Civil Defence.
Civil Defence continued to advise people to stay out of the water owing to the threat of unusual currents, but said there was no threat to beaches and land.
Earlier, Civil Defence controller Sarah Stewart-Black had told RNZ this was "not the same situation as after the Kaikoura earthquake".
The US Pacific Tsunami Warning Center said tsunami waves were forecast to be less than 30cm for New Zealand. They could take 4-5 hours to arrive, Civil Defence said.
Waves between one metre and 3m were possible along some coasts of the Solomon Islands, with waves from 30cm to 1m possible in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu, the US authority predicted.
A tsunami watch had been issued for Hawaii, but had since been cancelled.
The quake was initially rated at magnitude 8.0. It was downgraded to 7.7 before being finally rated at 7.8. The epicentre was relatively deep at 48km, the USGS reported.
The Solomon Islands were located in the Pacific's geologically active "Ring of Fire," which New Zealand was a part of.
- Stuff, Agencies